Wigan fake photo swept the world

Our top columnist Geoffrey Shryhane looks at some fake news from yesteryear...

Thursday, 11th April 2019, 3:29 pm
Updated Thursday, 11th April 2019, 4:39 pm
The fake photo
The fake photo

You hear a lot about fake news these days. But just what is “fake news?”

Simple… it’s news on the internet that simply isn’t true.

Well let me tell you about a “fake news” photo that hit the headlines long before the existence of the kind of fake news we know today.

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Here’s a photo of a down-on-his luck dad and his two children. They lived in the Birkett Bank area just before the Second World War, and they were snapped by a Picture Post magazine photographer.

Father, son and daughter? That’s what folks were meant to believe but they would have been wrong.

There’s no relation whatsoever between the three characters in the snap which was supposed to typify life in Wigan.

The emotive black and white image has been published hundreds of times over the years, and there’s even a copy in the famous Smithsonian Museum in Washington.

So let’s solve the problem. Just who were the adult and two children?

The “father” was not a father at all, but a local down on his luck… one of life’s unfortunates who often stayed at the Royal George Common Lodging House.

The young boy carrying the margarine box – Michael Hand whose family lived not far from the Royal George.

They were respectable people but money was always short. He died around 30 years go.

The girl – Winnie. Lived locally and died young.

The three were in the street when the Picture Post snapper arrived and he posed them to appear as a family and a poor family at that.

Orwell had already been to Wigan to research his book, which is why Picture Post took an interest in the town and planned the article.

In fact, the photo did not appear when the article was printed on November 11, 1939.

The “father with his two children” photo has been printed in a host of newspapers and magazines over the years. But few know that it was an early example of fake news.